Forgiveness: Pondering the gift of God’s mercy

By Bishop Robert Morneau | Special to The Compass | November 26, 2014

This week The Compass begins coverage of Advent with a four-part series focused on Advent and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a theme for all seasons, be it Advent, Lent, the Easter season or ordinary time. As Christmas comes into view, we might do well to ponder the great gift of God’s mercy and the devastating effects of sin.

Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 7. (CNS graphic) Part I: Forgiveness: Pondering the gift of God’s mercy Part II: Forgiveness: The opportunity of the holidays Part III: The wonderful gift of forgiveness
First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30. (CNS graphic)
Part I: Forgiveness: Pondering the gift of God’s mercy
Part II: Forgiveness: The opportunity of the holidays
Part III: The wonderful gift of forgiveness
Part IV: God never tires of forgiving us

In Mark Twain’s “The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn,” Huckleberry’s companion Jim, a slave, speaks about forgiveness and the difficulty of experiencing this grace. Jim says: “De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live.” (“The Lord God Almighty forgives poor old Jim, because he never is going to forgive himself as long as he lives.”)

We don’t know exactly what sins Jim is dealing with but, in great honesty, he acknowledges that only through God’s mercy will he come to know forgiveness and peace. All of us, as we review our lives and look at our current situation, have to deal with those attitudes and behaviors that have injured, ruptured, or broken relationships. Some issues may appear relatively small: gossiping, telling fibs, passing by someone in need. But in relationships, there are no small matters. Appearances are deceiving. But there is no deception when it comes to the big sins, those that are called capital sins: pride, greed, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, envy. As long as we live, we will need God’s grace to forgive ourselves and others when these sins become a part of our history.

Pope Francis is continually reminding us about the core message of the Gospel: God’s love and mercy revealed in the crucified and risen Christ. A major theme of his pontificate is that of mercy, God’s ocean of forgiveness. Pope Francis began his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (“Evangelii Gaudium”) with these words: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” That offer of salvation is forgiveness, and with forgiveness comes joy and peace.

One of the most powerful scenes in John’s Gospel is when the risen Christ appeared to the troubled disciples in the upper room. The disciples were living in fear and heavy remorse. They had abandoned Jesus and stood in need of forgiveness. Jesus spoke to them with these powerful words: “Peace be with you!” With mercy comes peace; with forgiveness comes the restoration of joy.

Back to Jim, Huckleberry Finn’s friend and companion. Although Mark Twain was not a believer, he understood something about the nature of sin and forgiveness. Ultimately, we cannot forgive ourselves. Forgiveness must come from God, sometimes mediated through another person, sometimes through the sacrament of reconciliation, or sometimes through other channels. It is God’s grace that offers us that peace that surpasses all understanding.

Back on Oct. 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts took hostage 10 Amish girls in a one-room schoolhouse in West Nickel Mine, Pa. He shot all of them, killing five and himself. People around the world could not believe what happened next. The leaders of the Amish community extended forgiveness to Roberts’s widow and her family.

As we approach the Christmas mystery, we do well to ask forgiveness for our sins. The child born in Bethlehem would become the man who died on Calvary for the salvation of the world. His life was a life of love, compassion and forgiveness. This is the master we follow.

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